Rory McCabe and Conor O’Neill are hard-working 12-year-olds, whose exploits and progress are narrated by the namesake of Clancy’s Pub who’s taken a liking to them. At times, he rewards the boys’ efforts with tales of their shared Irish heritage, its heroes and its glories. The boys have very different personalities, as Clancy discerns from their reactions to his lore. Rory is outraged as he hears of Ireland’s treatment by the British, while Conor accepts the information more quietly, studiously.
The two boys will soon meet a beautiful girl, Maria, the daughter of a well-to-do neighbor secretly aligned with a revolutionary resistance movement. Both will fall in love, but of the two, Rory will be the more open about his interest, while Conor will hold back, respectful but clearly smitten.
When the deep divide between Ireland and its oppressors begins to heat up, the boys, older now and more independent, again respond differently. Rory wants to join in and even die, if need be, for freedom, while Conor takes a more practical path. Then circumstances force both of them to the test, to demonstrate their deepest loyalties.
Author Sean P. Mahoney has won a prestigious Nicholl Fellowship for his screenplay version of Fenian’s Trace, which he subsequently adapted to the novel. The story focuses on the Easter Rising of 1916, when Irish patriots rose up, incensed by fighting alongside the British in World War I, while Britain continued the suppression of Irish rights. It is into this hotbed of revolutionary fervor that Rory and Conor, along with many others, are swept up.
Mahoney peppers his narrative with atmospheric touches, including many Irish words and speech cadences (captured wonderfully in the audiobook narration of Liam Carney) along with the fabled legacy of Fenian’s Trace, a patriot’s gravesite. It is on those grounds that the boys establish their chosen fortress, with significant consequences.
This wide-ranging panorama is a rich mix of folklore and fact, heroism during warfare, politics, and a star-crossed youthful love affair that will take on increasingly deeper meaning and, in the end, call for the ultimate sacrifice. Fenian’s Trace will appeal to readers across several genres, and as one might expect from Mahoney’s success in screenwriting, readers will delight in this colorful tale that begs for a cinematic version.
Fenian’s Trace won 1st Place in the 2017 Goethe Awards for Historical Fiction (post-1750s).